Friday, March 20, 2009

Reacting to the Past at Barnard College

(via PaxSims) Barnard College runs an interesting program called "Reacting to the Past," a set of classroom roleplaying exercises based on historical situations:
“Reacting to the Past” (RTTP) consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history ideas. Class sessions are run entirely by students; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work. It seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills. Pioneered by Barnard College in 1996, the project is supported by a consortium of colleges and universities.

All of the games are set in the past, and thus might be regarded as history, but each game also explores multiple additional disciplines. Part of the intellectual appeal of RTTP is that it transcends disciplinary structures. In addition to games in the published series, the consortium seeks to expand the curriculum by supporting faculty workshops and collaboration on new game designs that explore a variety of historical moments in the humanities and sciences.
Neat stuff. There are some upcoming faculty conferences in different regions for those interested in using or contributing to the program (Paxsims has more about that). What struck me after watching the sample video at the RTTP site was that it was difficult to see what the structure of the exercises really was. Is this a roleplaying debating society, or are there some underlying game elements that aren't shown? Based on the accompanying web pages, it seems that there are some other aspects to the game that I just wasn't able to pick up on. This reminds me of some of the games designed by Megagame Makers (discussed in another post a while back), and I wonder if some of them (particularly the Washington Naval Conference one) could be transferred to this RTTP framework without much trouble. Perhaps that wouldn't be sweeping enough in scope for the RTTP program. I also wonder if the good folks at ChoMUN and MUNUC are aware of this... and vice versa....


sharecropper said...

Reacting games all have some game elements, but they are generally means to an end. The primary aim of the games is to get students into intellectual collisions about big questions -- what is the best relationship between the individual and the state, etc. Game elements like assassinations and military operations usually exist primarily to draw students into the big questions.

Tim said...

Interesting... I particularly like your term "intellectual collisions." There's a wonderfully kinetic sound to it. Thanks for your comment.